See plans for two Akron parks for $100,000 grants
Kerr Park is not the place EJ Brinson remembers from his childhood.
“In the late 80s, early 90s, the park started to deteriorate very quickly,” said Brinson, who grew up in West Akron. “It was run down, not conducive for the kids to go play.”
Gone are the days of swinging around playground equipment, where peeling paint, rusty metal and plywood boards stood in place of a slide.
But Brinson, a community advocate with the Summit County Think Tank Coalition, was determined not to see his neighborhood park disappear.
After three years of applying for Akron’s Park Challenge, a city-backed initiative in partnership with Akron Parks Collaborative that was launched in 2018 to invest in community parks, Kerr Park has been selected as one of two 2021 winners alongside of Middlebury’s Jewett Park to receive a $100,000 grant to revitalize public space.
As funds begin flowing to communities and construction begins this spring and summer, grantees are gearing up for a total transformation of their neighborhood parks.
Kerr Park will upgrade tennis courts and install a walking path
After decades of divestment, the tennis courts at Kerr Park lacked nets, asphalt was broken, equipment was deteriorating, and empty beer bottles and broken glass littered the property. The 2.5 acres “just wasn’t a park anymore,” Brinson said.
“We spoke to neighbors there and saw that there was a huge need for development and revitalization,” Brinson said.
The park is one block southwest of the Maple Valley neighborhood crossroads, between South Hawkins Avenue and Copley Road.
With support from KABOOM!, a non-profit organization that strives to equitably install play equipment in urban communities across the country, and other community partners, Kerr Park received a new playground last fall.
To continue to build on this momentum, the Summit Think Tank Coalition worked with residents to rethink how the park could serve them and decided to use the grant to improve tennis courts and create a walking trail this summer. .
Brinson said they are also working to engage sports teams and other organizations to host games and events at the park. Brinson said they hope to get more community buy-in and investment to continue building the park.
“There is going to be a resurgence,” he said. “The goal is to continue to reach out to stakeholders in the community, use this win we received to secure additional resources for activities, and work on a plan for the park.” It’s one thing to actually improve the capital assets of the park, but it’s another thing to create social programs there.
He also sees the space as a way to reduce youth violence in the region.
“Yes [kids] don’t have a place to play, they’re going to run into some of the issues that we see,” Brinson said. “When you have a family atmosphere where you can go to the park as a family, it’s an investment that lasts throughout life, memories. it did for me. They are lucky to be a child.
Middlebury’s Jewett Park will build pavilions and a new playing field
Jewett Park is the only park in Middlebury, Akron’s oldest neighborhood and one of the poorest. The neighborhood has always been ravaged by divestment – and Jewett Park was no exception.
“We are thrilled because not much has been done to help the neighborhood,” said Yolanda Parker, executive director of LINKS Community and Family Services, the organization that applied for and won the grant on behalf of Jewett Park. “This park is going to be a great step for us to promote our region and show that families and individuals can come and have fun here.”
Using the grant money, they will build two pavilions and a new playground. LINKS is working with therapy specialists from nearby Summa Health to make the space “therapeutic and serene”, complete with herb and flower gardens, bird feeders and benches.
“We wanted to make Jewett Park a centerpiece of our neighborhood that would allow residents to come here, plan their picnics, their get-togethers, create a space for everyone to enjoy,” Parker said. The park is along Jewett Street, midway between the Summa Akron City Hospital campus and North Arlington Street.
LINKS engaged local youth to help design the playground, perimeter wall and rest areas. Construction is scheduled for August.
“People need a way out of their situations,” Parker said. “The park is a wonderful way to escape, refresh and rebuild. It allows them to release stress, to have an inexpensive means of escape. This park will allow neighborhood children to have a place that really looks like them.
The 2022 Akron Parks Challenge Begins
The application period for the 2022 Akron Parks Challenge opens Friday and closes April 22. Two winners will be announced in June.
The program has completed three rounds of challenges, totaling $700,000 in grants to 7 parks, since its launch in 2018. Akron Parks Collaborative has helped find additional funds to help each park achieve its vision, totaling $1.1 million dollars in total.
“Parks should be considered essential,” said Bridget Ambrisco, executive director of Akron Parks Collaborative. “They are absolutely essential in helping to build stronger communities and have a huge impact on people’s health and quality of life. We’ve seen that they can truly catalyze continuous improvement across all neighborhoods.
Journalist Abbey Marshall is a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. Learn more at reportforamerica.org. Contact her at [email protected]